Heavy traffic expected for holiday travel

Thanksgiving is almost upon the Shenandoah Valley, so expect traffic congestion around Interstate 66 and Interstate 81 Sunday, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Based on traffic counts from 2011-2013, the Virginia Thanksgiving Holiday Historic Travel Trends map has pinpointed down to a half an hour where the trouble spots will be on Virginia interstates from Wednesday to Sunday.

According to Ken Slack, a VDOT spokesperson, the data presented on the map is a measure of traffic speed, not necessarily the number of automobiles on the road.

“For the most part, if the speeds are slower, that is an indication of congested,” Slack said. “However, some areas, like I-64 going towards West Virginia, have a topography that forces people to take it slower.”

According to the VTHHTT, traffic looks clear on I-81 and I-66 throughout the majority of the weekend. However, expect moderate to heavy traffic from Stephens City to New Market, especially in the southbound lanes, from noon to 7 p.m. on I-81. Westbound I-66 is expected to be moderately to heavily congested from 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. as well.

Slack said the Sunday after Thanksgiving is traditionally a heavy travel day.

“People get time off from work at different points in the week, so before Thanksgiving, you got people traveling over a number of days,” Slack said. “But Sunday is when a lot people leave, so we see the traffic that was spread out during the week come through in one day.”

Slack continued, “Also, I-81 is a huge trucking route and a lot of them aren’t on the roads Thursday or Friday. A lot of them get on the road Sunday, so you have a lot of commercial traffic mixed in with the holiday traffic.”

The I-81 and I-66 interchange is expected to be heavily congested Sunday, according to the map. Slack said interchanges are notorious for congestion.

“You got a lot of people changing lanes, merging on to ramps, merging off of ramps,” Slack said. “You just have to be careful when you approach it.”

This year’s traffic woes may also be compounded with the possibility of snow accumulation of 3 to 6 inches Wednesday. Slack said travelers should keep an eye on the forecast, as well as the traffic map.

“Whenever you have a heavy travel day, any adverse weather, like rain, snow or sleet, can cause slow downs or accidents,” Slack said. “If you have the luxury, reschedule by leaving a day or two early.”

The Virginia State Police will also be out in force during the holiday weekend, with 75 percent of its uniformed officers on the road patrolling the highways from Wednesday through Sunday. Last year, there were 12 accident deaths in the commonwealth during the Thanksgiving weekend, eight of which involved passengers not wearing seatbelts and four involved alcohol.

The Virginia State Police and VDOT are recommending travelers follow these tips:

• Get some sleep before hitting the roads. Falling asleep at the wheel is a major contributor to accidents.

• Schedule rest breaks. Whether it is stopping in a rest area or grabbing a bite on the road, taking a break from driving makes motorists more alert and rested.

• Check tires pressure, including the spare. Also, check the tread for bald spots or irregular wear.

• Check all lights. This includes turn signals, headlights, brake lights, reverse lights and emergency flashers.

• Pack an emergency roadside kit. Lug wrenches, a jack, flashlight, road flares, jumper cables, first aid kit, anti-freeze and oil should do just fine.

• Put the cell phone down. Texting and driving is just as bad as drunk driving. In the event of using a cell phone, pull off at a rest area or gas station.

• Do not drink and drive or operate a vehicle under the influence of narcotics.

• Obey the speed limit.

• Plan ahead. Know the routes, know the weather, know what to expect.

• Watch out for road crews.

• Watch out for deer.

VDOT recommends motorists interested in knowing the current conditions of roads call 511 or visit http://www.511virginia.org. The Virginia Thanksgiving Holiday Historic Travel Trends map is available at http://www.virginiaroads.org.

Contact staff writer Henry Culvyhouse at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or hculvyhouse@nvdaily.com